While no one needs an excuse or a reason to show themselves some love, sometimes having a way in, like Valentine’s Day, makes restarting a self-care habit a bit easier. And in the world of parenting or trying to conceive, anything that makes a day easier is worth getting on board with.
As Marcella Kelson, MSc, LMSW shares, “Maternal wellness is all about prioritizing and finding room for you, so that you can actually enjoy the life you work so hard for, even with all the challenges that parenting brings.”
The first step in creating a foundation for your refreshed self-care routine? Nixing toxic positivity—a belief that happiness can be chosen and all other feelings are bad.
“When attempting to re-engage with self care, toxic positivity can evoke feelings of shame and guilt, especially if a self-care regimen is harder to rebuild than we thought it would be,” explains Mariah Gallagher, LCSW, a licensed therapist at Alma. “We might internalize the difficulty as being our fault, and we might diminish or dismiss the feelings that come up during these hard times because we see them as bad or wrong. This might make it easier to give up on our goals than to stick with them and build some tolerance for the tough stuff.”
If you’ve fallen off the wagon on prioritizing your self-care lately (um, who hasn’t?), getting back into it may not be easy, but it is doable, especially if you aim for manageability instead of perfection.
Carve out time for an audit
As you’re making lists of all the new self-care habits you want to pick up, Gallagher encourages you to look at your self-care journey thus far.
You can ask questions like:
What has gotten in the way of self-care before?
What are your beliefs around taking care of yourself?
What has self-care looked like before and what can it look like now?
Gallagher adds, “When you know your barriers, you can create a path to navigate around them.”
Start smaller than you think you should
Studies show that 1 in 5 women suffer from maternal mental health disorders and the rates of depression are double in Black moms. Living in a pandemic and navigating COVID only exacerbate deeply rooted realities for many women.
As you work to find a self-care spark again, it’s essential to focus on what’s manageable and sustainable, even if the acts feel minute.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Keep your favorite aromatherapy oil next to your bed and dab a little on your wrists in the morning for a mood boost
Listen to your favorite song while brushing your teeth
Text your mom or your best friend
Stretch for five minutes in the evening
Do a five-minute face
Try breathwork in the car after day-care drop-off
“These sound ridiculously tiny, and they are, [but] that’s the point,” Gallagher says. “When we set realistic and achievable goals, we feel more motivated to keep going and to incorporate bigger self care goals over time.”
Don’t focus on getting rid of negative self-talk, focus on talking back
“When talking about self-care, we have to talk about self-compassion,” explains Gallagher.
It’s easy to become your own worst enemy, especially when your expectations are set so high for how self-love “should” look.
Instead of growing frustrated at the number of times you speak poorly to yourself, Gallagher encourages you to address yourself the way you would a friend who is having a rough go.
“How would you address someone you love if they came to you with their struggles? Cultivate a supportive, kind and reassuring part of you that you can call on when self criticism seeps in,” explains Gallagher.
“One very concrete way to do this is to write yourself a compassionate letter and read it often. If negative self-talk is more accessible than compassionate self-talk, learn what compassion sounds like by listening to guided meditations, specifically ‘loving-kindness’ meditations,” she recommends.
While Valentine’s Day won’t be the only day this year for you to restart your self-care journey, it’s as good a day as any. Just remember to practice as much self-compassion as self-care.
A version of this post was published February 11, 2022. It has been updated.